Wednesday 19 September 2012

Elizabethan stitches: a guide to English historic needlework - Book review

Jacqui Carey – Elizabethan stitches: a guide to English historic needlework (Ottery St Mary : Carey, 2012, ISBN 978-0-9523225-8-0, 160p. £24.95)

This is a fantastic book for anyone with an interest in Elizabeth or Jacobean embroidery, full of incredibly detailed coloured photographs and instructions. After an introduction covering terminology, materials and design the main part of the book is divided into stitches and case studies of the use of those stitches.

 For each stitch Carey has examined original needlework to see how the stitch was actually worked, often finding that they were worked differently to the way they are worked today. In each case you have a close up of an original or a modern worked example, a diagram clearly explaining how it was worked and, if necessary, a diagram showing how it has been worked by modern needlewomen. Some years ago I made a nightcap copying a design on an unfinished coif. I though from photographs of the whole embroidery that the work had been done in stem stitch with French knots, but Carey’s close up photography clearly shows that the original is coral stitch with Elizabethan spiders webs. Carey covers 34 types of stitch which she has divided into needlepoint, looped and braided stitches, for example under braid stitches you have ladder braid, holly braid, and four variations of plaited braid stitch. Stitches that are more common, and that have not changed over the centuries, such as stem, chain, and back stitch, are not examined in this way though they are included, and there are photographs of them in use.

 Carey has chosen for her case studies 24 items ranging from a book cover made by an eleven year old Princess Elizabeth for her step mother Katherine Parr, though samplers, coifs and caps, to Margaret Layton’s jacket. The items come from a variety of museums and collections, including the Victorian and Albert Museum, the British Library, the Ashmolean Museum, the Embroiderers’ Guild and several private collections. As well as photographs of the whole and close ups of the stitches, there are often photographs of the back of the work showing not only how they were worked and finished, but also how far the colours have faded from the originals.

 Jacqui Carey is also the author of Sweet Bags: an investigation into 16thand 17th century needlework, which is certainly going to be my next purchase.


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